What Does Industrial Maintenance Mean?

October 31, 2022

Industrial Maintenance Definition

Industrial maintenance refers to processes intended to minimize asset breakdowns, increase uptime, and improve overall plant reliability. It ensures all plant assets are in good working condition. For this reason, industrial maintenance is sometimes referred to as plant maintenance. The industrial settings that practice this category of maintenance include food processing plants, manufacturing facilities, electricity plants, and more. 

Industrial Maintenance Today

Modern industrial facilities are under intense pressure to meet availability, productivity, and quality demands without delay. According to Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, 98 percent of manufacturing organizations report that a single hour of downtime costs more than $100,000, and one-third report costs more than $1 million. 

For this reason, savvy operational managers prioritize issuing ongoing training for maintenance technicians, tracking asset history with computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and utilizing a combination of advanced maintenance strategies to meet their goals. Industrial maintenance aims to:

  • Increase uptime, asset availability, and productivity. 
  • Decrease downtime and reduce breakdowns and inefficiencies. 
  • Maintain predictability of maintenance expenses. 
  • Keep all equipment in peak working condition.

These goals are achieved by implementing a global maintenance strategy and using the best maintenance strategy for each asset. 

Types of Maintenance across Industries 

Industries that rely heavily on industrial maintenance include manufacturing, construction, mining, oil & gas, electricity, and automotive. Businesses within these sectors rely on hundreds of expensive, critical pieces of equipment to fulfill customer expectations.

For this reason, running a strategic maintenance program is paramount to sustainable success. A solid plant maintenance plan helps optimize upkeep costs, maximize uptime potential, and increase long-term profitability. 

Essentially, industrial maintenance revolves around proactively remedying maintenance issues so that important assets won’t ever fail unexpectedly. Most industrial facilities use a combination of maintenance strategies to meet these goals, including: 

1. Preventive Maintenance (PM)

preventive industrial maintenance

Preventive maintenance involves taking a proactive approach to equipment upkeep. It requires performing routine servicing to prevent future failures from occurring. 

Plant managers schedule periodic maintenance based on machine usage, time-based recommendations, and equipment history. A common example of PM is changing an automobile’s engine oil every 5,000 miles or three months. 

2. Reactive Maintenance

reactive industrial maintenance workflow

Reactive maintenance refers to tasks performed after equipment failure has already occurred. Generally, reactive maintenance assignments fall into two categories: run-to-failure maintenance and emergency maintenance

Though it may sound odd, plants often allow certain assets to break down. Managers most likely won’t schedule noncritical, inexpensive, and easily replaceable assets for preventative maintenance. For example, run-to-failure maintenance is the ideal maintenance strategy for a light bulb. 

3. Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM)

reliability-centered industrial maintenance

Reliability-centered maintenance is a proactive maintenance framework that incorporates several techniques to increase uptime, reduce excess spending, and increase efficiency. The process aims to match each asset with the maintenance technique most likely to generate cost-effective uptime. Thus, both reactive maintenance and preventive maintenance are included in industrial maintenance programs. 

An increasingly essential aspect of RCM is predictive maintenance (PdM). PdM technologies like vibration analysis, sound-level measurements, and oil analysis help inform maintenance planning. Additionally, RCM practitioners assess the consequences of equipment failure using exercises like failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), fault tree analysis (FTA), and more. 

4. Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM)

condition-based industrial maintenance

Condition-based maintenance is another advanced maintenance framework that dictates performing maintenance based on real-time equipment data. Plant managers monitor moment-to-moment asset conditions using sensor devices designed to detect impending breakdowns. 

Similar to RCM, the goal of CBM is to optimize maintenance spending without sacrificing efficiency. A typical application of CBM is to monitor pressure readings on piping systems. Food and beverage manufacturers often rely on real-time diagnostics to ensure production lines are never disrupted by unexpected pipe bursts. 

O&M Cost Optimization

According to LaSalle’s Determining the Economic Value of Preventive Maintenance, standard PM alone can yield a 545% return-on-investment (ROI):

“Consider, however, the cost of just one piece of equipment: a chiller. The average size of the company’s chillers was 350 tons. At $1,000 per ton, chillers would cost an average of $350,000 to replace. Maintaining the chiller costs $5,500 per year, and proper maintenance adds years to the equipment’s life, avoiding the extremely expensive capital outlay needed to replace it. The longer the capital expense can be delayed, the higher the ROI.” 

Jones Lang LaSalle

Alternatively, both CBM and PdM allow industrial maintenance teams to optimize maintenance costs even more. Advanced sensor technology measures equipment vibration, temperature, and ultrasounds to anticipate potential breakdowns with a higher level of precision than manufacturers’ guidelines alone. However, PdM takes the trophy when it comes to delivering the highest ROI. 

Algorithmic software analyzes sensor data to find the sweet spot between cost-efficient equipment servicing,  breakdown prevention, and asset life-cycle extension. According to Deloitte, industrial maintenance teams utilizing advanced PdM technologies can achieve a 70 percent reduction of breakdowns and a 25 percent savings on maintenance costs. With that said, reactive maintenance will always be ideal for inexpensive, non-critical, and easy-to-replace assets. 

Organizations That Require Industrial Maintenance 

Any company that owns heavy machinery needs industrial maintenance. Organizations in the following sectors typically require industrial maintenance: 

  • Manufacturing: Electronics factories, furniture manufacturers, paint suppliers, or any other organization producing goods for consumers or businesses.
  • Food Processing: Plants preparing food and beverages.
  • Construction: Companies constructing infrastructure or buildings, such as offices, housing, malls, hotels, hospitals, and more.
  • Automobile: Auto parts manufacturers or assembly plants.
  • Aviation: Aircraft manufacturers or assembly plants.
  • Electricity production: Fossil-fuel or hydroelectric power stations, nuclear power plants, wind turbines.

Industrial facilities always have maintenance staff on board, and they typically work in teams. Additionally, companies will sometimes hire contractors for specific complex maintenance tasks. 

Examples of Industrial Maintenance Tasks

Examples of specific industrial maintenance tasks include:

  • Changing lubricants on equipment with rotating parts.
  • Detecting and fixing issues in hydraulic or pneumatic systems.
  • Doing maintenance work on boilers, heat exchangers, and tanks.
  • Assessing complex issues in the case of a breakdown and repairing equipment to minimize downtime.
  • Performing mechanical and electrical repairs.
  • Troubleshooting equipment that doesn’t perform as expected.
  • Inspecting equipment for signs of wear and tear.
  • Escalating equipment issues to maintenance supervisors.
  • Scheduling future maintenance tasks.
  • Managing inventory—spare parts, tools, and materials—for future maintenance work.

Overall, industrial maintenance tasks are varied and complex and require a high level of adaptability. Let’s look at additional important skills maintenance workers should have.

Key Skills for Maintenance Personnel

Regardless of the specific equipment being serviced, industrial maintenance workers must possess several crucial skills, including: 

Problem Solving

Maintenance work is all about identifying and fixing issues. Maintenance employees must be able to identify the best operational solution in the shortest possible time. They should also perform well under pressure. Downtime can be incredibly stressful!

Precision and Attention to Detail

Technicians should possess a keen eye for detail. This trait is crucial when installing, repairing, and maintaining heavy machinery. An eye for detail is needed to follow manufacturers’ guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with a high level of precision.

Adaptability and Versatility

Different pieces of equipment require different maintenance strategies. Maintenance workers must be able to adapt quickly from one SOP to the next. Additionally, SOPs and best practices often change over time. Thus, workers must be open to continually improving their skills and knowledge. 

Communication Skills

Most industrial maintenance work is done within a team setting. Strong communication skills are therefore essential for maintenance personnel. A good CMMS smartphone app with chat functionality can streamline communication within the team. In case of emergency maintenance, for example, it can help maintenance technicians coordinate their efforts without information falling through the cracks. 

Physical Strength

Finally, maintenance work is sometimes physically demanding. Technicians may engage in activities that require endurance, stamina, and strength. Common physically demanding maintenance tasks include carrying and assembling heavy machine parts, climbing tall ladders, and working in unusually hot or cold temperatures. 

Types of Industrial Maintenance Jobs

Those interested in pursuing an industrial maintenance career have several options. Google “full-time industrial maintenance jobs,” and you will find dozens of available positions. However, many of them have overlapping responsibilities. 

Below are common industrial maintenance job roles:  

1. Maintenance Manager

Maintenance managers oversee the day-to-day maintenance operations within an organization. They typically report to a company director, vice president, or president. Their immediate supervisor will depend on the organization’s size and unique leadership hierarchy. 

The responsibilities of a maintenance manager include:

  • Onboarding new hires
  • Coordinating maintenance scheduling
  • Developing strategic maintenance programs
  • Implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Managing maintenance budgets to optimize spending
  • Improving asset reliability, while increasing efficiency
  • Sourcing and hiring third-party contractors for specialized work
  • Ensuring compliance with company policies, OSHA guidelines, and industry regulations

Leadership measures maintenance managers’ performance by monitoring efficiency and overall compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards, workplace safety metrics, budget alignment, and production uptime targets. 

2. Maintenance Supervisor

Maintenance supervisors often complete many of the same activities as maintenance managers, including tracking key performance indicators (KPI) like Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), Planned Maintenance Percentage (PMP), and Schedule Compliance

However, they are primarily responsible for directly overseeing the work of maintenance technicians. Maintenance supervisors report to the maintenance managers. 

3. Maintenance Planner

The responsibilities of maintenance planners often overlap with those of managers and supervisors. However, large enterprises responsible for maintaining large numbers of assets often hire someone to specifically oversee maintenance planning. 

Maintenance planners ensure technicians have the necessary resources, tools, and parts to complete work orders. In some organizations, maintenance planners also play the role of maintenance schedulers and schedule work orders for completion.

4. Maintenance Mechanic

Organizations that rely on complex industrial machinery for production employ specialists to install, disassemble, repair, and maintain the machines. 

Part of the responsibilities of an industrial maintenance mechanic includes executing PM processes while also observing the mechanical performance of components. Other common duties of industrial maintenance mechanics include welding and metal fabricating damaged parts and troubleshooting hydraulic and pneumatic systems. 

5. Industrial Engineer

Industrial engineers are responsible for developing processes that workers can execute with minimal disturbances. They do this by using mathematical models and analysis tools to develop effective maintenance strategies. 

Engineers conceptualize, design, and integrate operations to optimize organizational resources. Through the use of analytical tools, they can often determine the most efficient way to accomplish essential department objectives. However, unlike maintenance mechanics, industrial engineers rarely perform the actual execution of the processes. 

Industrial Maintenance vs. Industrial Engineering

Finally, individuals sometimes confuse industrial maintenance professionals and industrial engineers. Though most industrial roles require overlapping knowledge, these two roles are very different. Industrial engineering requires a higher level of specialized education compared to industrial maintenance. 

Additionally, industrial maintenance focuses on the hands-on aspect of facility operations, while industrial engineering deals with strategizing how to most efficiently maintain equipment. Engineers use math and science to identify effective ways of solving problems. Thus, both roles work together to ensure asset reliability, plant safety, and continuous improvement. 

FAQ: Industrial Maintenance as a Career

What does it take to become an industrial maintenance professional? It varies from industry to industry. However, most organizations hire for a broad range of skills. 

Don’t worry—you don’t need to familiarize yourself with every type of industrial asset–only the critical mechanical systems most frequently relied upon. Plants don’t expect their maintenance workers to know everything about every asset. 

Companies frequently outsource certain work orders to third-party contractors. Below are answers to common questions regarding how to become an industrial maintenance professional and what the work entails.

What Do Industrial Maintenance Technicians Do? 

Industrial maintenance technicians perform maintenance tasks on important pieces of machinery. These tasks include both preventive and reactive maintenance activities. Competencies include:

  • Troubleshooting mechanical problems.
  • Carrying out assigned work orders.
  • Performing PM activities on facility equipment.
  • Responding to emergency breakdown situations.

What Are the Requirements

Candidates applying for an industrial maintenance technician position are usually required to have the following qualifications:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of electrical and mechanical systems maintenance
  • Working knowledge of industrial maintenance technology
  • Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or related fields
  • Familiarity with OSHA safety standards and regulations
  • Physical ability to work with heavy pieces of equipment
  • Mechanical system troubleshooting skills
  • Basic computer and report writing skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Time management skills

The best way to learn how to maintain industrial equipment is via an educational program. Degrees in industrial maintenance are available, as are industry certifications like the Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technician (CMRT) and International Maintenance Institute (IMI) Certifications

What Are the Benefits of an Industrial Maintenance Degree?

Industrial maintenance technicians are paid for their knowledge, skills, and experience. A degree in industrial maintenance demonstrates knowledge in the field. 

While entry-level industrial maintenance jobs often only require a high school diploma, higher-paying positions usually necessitate a college education. Right now, many aspiring technicians wonder: can you get an industrial maintenance degree online? 

Higher-ed learning institutions such as North Michigan University, Penn Foster College, Kent State University, and Grand Rapids Community College offer online industrial maintenance degrees. An industrial maintenance associate’s degree program typically takes two years. 

How Long Does Earning a Degree Take? 

Most associate’s degree programs in industrial maintenance take two years to complete. Programs are available at different colleges across the United States. Institutions that have reputable industrial maintenance programs are: 

Can You Get an Industrial Maintenance Degree Online? 

Some organizations offer online courses in the field of industrial maintenance, such as TPC Training or 360 Training. Penn Foster College offers a two-year online associate degree in Industrial Electronics and Electrical Maintenance Degree, while Bevill State Community College has an Industrial Maintenance Technician Online Refresher Training.

How Dangerous Is Industrial Maintenance? 

Industrial maintenance workers must follow safety procedures and use protective gear, such as hard hats, hearing protectors, and safety glasses. 

Even when maintenance staff follows all necessary safety precautions, working with heavy machinery has its risks. Unfortunately, this makes industrial maintenance one of the riskiest professions in the United States. Preventive maintenance of critical equipment is one of the ways to improve workplace safety for both machine operators and maintenance personnel. 

What Is the Job Outlook? 

According to Zippia, industrial maintenance technicians average $24.08 per hour or make an average of $50,082 per year. However, salaries range between $36,000 and $68,000 depending on location, education level, and field experience. 

Additional Resources

There is an abundance of high-quality industrial maintenance resources online, such as: 

  • Efficient Plant: Efficient Plant is a magazine on industrial maintenance, with topics such as reliability, automation, safety, analysis, and more. 
  • Manufacturing.net: A website for the most up-to-date information in the field of manufacturing.
  • MaintenanceWorld: For maintenance managers looking for information on the latest trends in maintenance.
  • Electrical Construction & Maintenance: EC&M is an authority on electric systems products, maintenance, and technologies.
  • Reliable Plant: Reliable Plant features detailed, informative articles on plant maintenance, lubrication, safety, lean manufacturing, and other topics.

Use a CMMS for Industrial Maintenance 

Industrial maintenance is an exciting field at the forefront of using advanced technologies for predicting equipment behavior. The industry involves multiple roles working together to minimize downtime, satisfy customers, and keep facilities running in pristine conditions. The best way to manage maintenance work orders is to use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) like MaintainX. Our software allows industrial maintenance managers and technicians to plan, execute, and oversee maintenance programs from the convenience of their smartphones for greater accessibility. 

Ready to check MaintainX out? Let us give you a tour.

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Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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